Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Back to Basics

Last month on an impulse I signed myself up for cooking classes through a local adult ed program. Basics of Cooking: I. There was an interesting range of students in the class, across a range of demographics, with incredibly varied comfort levels when it comes to cooking- from recent college grads just out of the dorms who haven't had much opportunity to cook, to a handful of 60+  men, one of whom made a joke on the second class (we had made 2 types of soup the class before) that he'd been eating soup all week, because it was the only thing he knew how to cook. While I do consider myself to in general be pretty comfortable with basic cooking at this point (at least compared to 6 months ago) I still felt like I was lacking an understanding of basic techniques and really wanted a solid foundation. There were some things I had tried to teach myself from articles or books (for example the proper way to dice an onion) that are so much better understood when you have a professional chef there teaching you, letting you know what to do differently and reassuring you when you do get it right.

At this point my class is nearly drawing to a close, and I decided to cook myself a nice back to basics dinner tonight and try out some new techniques and revisit my old standbys. So I decided on pan fried chicken, sweet potatoes and spinach salad.

Pan fried herb-y chicken thighs, rosemary sweet potatoes and baby spinach salad

I think it came out fabulous (and my taste-testing roommate agrees) my cooking class taught me to feel much more comfortable as I  chopped the sweet potatoes (though I wished I owned a bigger knife!) and I used my two big lessons on pan  frying learned in the class too- how to tell that the pan is hot enough before putting the meat on the pan, and that once the chicken is on the pan you better not move it or touch it until it is good and brown! I think it was misunderstanding these two things that had made pan frying such a challenge to me in the past- I would put food on the pan when it wasn't hot enough (or worse- too hot) and then I would turn and check it and move it around so often it never got nicely browned.

 I prepared the chicken just as we had one day in class- with a little olive oil and fresh herbs and that's it. The sweet potatoes were an old standby for me- cubed, coated in a little olive oil, and sprinkled with fresh rosemary, salt and pepper. And on the side a simple baby spinach salad with a quick vinaigrette: balsamic and red wine vinegars, olive oil, garlic mustard, and the remaining fresh cut herbs, and topped with a few unsalted almonds.

The whole process went so smoothly- none of the usual ridiculousness, nothing burned, everything was timed well,  I  didn't slice off any fingers... I think I should go back to basics more often!

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